Photo: Primsal

Nagyszalonta or Szalonta (Salonta Mare, Großsalontha) used to belong to Transylvania, it can be found in Romania, next to the Hungarian border. The town is associated with the name of the legendary Hungarian soldier, Toldi Miklós. It is located on the eastern fringe of the Great Hungarian Plains, between the Fekete (Black) and Fehér (White) Kőrös rivers. It is 38 km to the southwest of Nagyvárad (Oradea). Now, roughly 2/3 of the population is still Hungarian. Please note, that I am using the Oriental name order for Hungarian names in my writings where family names come first.

in 1908

The settlement was born in the 12th century and the Mongols destroyed it in 1241. Soon, it was rebuilt, though. The village was first mentioned in 1332 as Zalanta. The Nadaby and the Toldy (or Toldi) families were its owners in 1433 but it went entirely to the Toldy family in 1515. As for the Toldy family, Toldy Miklós (about 1320- after 1390)  is remembered as a legendary strong hero, in Hungarian folklore. However, Toldi Miklós and György Toldi were real persons under kings King Lajos I (Louis the Great) and King Zsigmond. He is mentioned in 1354 as the Vice-Comes and Castelain of Pozsony County.

Szalonta (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

He used to be the knight of the Archbishop of Esztergom, too. We know about his father who was Toldi Csóka, and one of his brothers Mátyás. Miklós took part in the campaigns of Louis the Great in Italy as a mercenary leader. In 1359, at the request of the king, he brought two lion cubs from Florence. He had to flee his home because he killed a soldier of his elder brother, György. 

Toldi Miklós (by Somogyi Győző)

In fact, Miklós often made a contract with liege-lords for a specific period, in exchange for money: it was a special Hungarian way of serving a higher-ranked nobleman. In 1363, he was leading a Hungarian army to Italy, sent by the king to serve the Papal State against its enemies. After the successful campaign, Toldi spent some time there as a leader of a mercenary unit that contained 1,600 Hungarians and English bowmen. They were the so-called “white knights”. Cardinal Egyed, the Hungarian envoy of King Louis in Rome hired them for six months in 1365 against the German mercenaries who were serving the town of Pisa.

It was how Toldi had been portrayed in 1512

However, things turned out quite unexpectedly: the “white knights” or White Company (perhaps Hungarian archers and English or Welsh bowmen?) were ravaging the land in Visconti even worse than the Germans so the Cardinal had to hire the German mercenaries against his own men. Who, defeated the “white knights” on 22 July 1365 and captured Toldi Miklós. We have the document in which Toldi swears obedience to the Cardinal in exchange for his freedom. We know that the White Company fought at this time against another company under Konrad von Landau. In William Caffero’s biography of Sir John Hawkwood, he says there were Hungarians in both companies. They refused to fight each other and the group in Konrad’s company left the field leading to his death.

Ilosvai Selymes Péter wrote about Toldi’s deeds first in the 16th century (print: 1620)

Miklós came home in 1366 and he was at once appointed as the Comes of Gömör County by the king. He used to be the Comes of Gömör until 1371. Miklós became the Vice-Comes of Zala County between 1372 and 1373.  Also, he was the Vice-Comes of Bihar County between 1377 and 1382, it was the time when his family took hold of the village called Nagyfalu. Then, between 1383 and 1385, he was the Vice-Comes of Szabolcs County. King Zsigmond awarded him the settlement of Daróc in Szatmár County. We know he had two sons by this time, György and János. The last record about Toldi Miklós is that he exchanged Daróc for the settlement called Bátor in Bihar County in 1390. Was he or his sons with King Zsigmond in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396? It remained to be seen.

Arany János, the most famous Hungarian poet of the 19th century wrote a trilogy about his deeds. According to tradition, the Stump Tower (Csonka-torony) near Arany’s hometown of Nagyszalonta had been owned by the Toldi family. In folklore, Toldi has been remembered the longest in Nógrád and Bihar County and they emphasize his physical strength but place him a century later in the age of King Matthias Corvinus. 

The COA of the Borosjenői Toldi family from 1628

Szalonta became a small town only in the 16th century. During the Dual Kingship, it belonged to King Ferdinand I but after 1556 it belonged to the Transylvanian princes. When the Ottomans had to withdraw from the siege of Várad in 1598, they set the place on fire and destroyed it. 

Szalonta (Source: Szegedi Szabolcs)

It was Prince Bocskai István of Transylvania in 1606 who settled 300 Hajdú families (armed Hungarian herdsmen) from Kereki to Kölesér, a small town next to Szalonta. The reason behind this act was, that the Turks had destroyed Kölesér, so the survivors all moved to Szalonta that year. A remark about Kölesér: it had its own ruined castle and it boasted of a school and it was in Kölesd also where Brother Martinuzzi György, the Governor of Transylvania held a Diet in 1548. This small town with its busy marketplace sank in the destruction as happened to many towns and villages which disappeared from the surface of the Earth.

The COA of Szalonta town

Szalonta had just a few houses and the Toldy residence at that time. The Hajdú soldiers were given collective nobility and other privileges, we have their official seal from 1618. However, Prince Báthory Gábor also supported them by gifting them the right to collect taxes in 1610. The Hajdús bought the area from the Toldy family in 1625.
The bastions of the castle of Szalonta were built in the 1620s from the stones of the stately home of Mezőgyarak (which had been destroyed by them previously).

Szalonta Castle was ready by 1636 but its Csonka-torony (Stump or Unfinished Tower) was built a bit later. The tower used to be part of the fortification. The Ottomans wanted to install Bethlen István on the throne of Transylvania but Prince Rákóczi György I defeated the Ottoman army near Szalonta on 6 October 1636, thus proving that the Principality was just a nominal vassal state of the sultan and it was independent enough to defend itself against the mighty Ottoman Empire.

Nagyszalonta, 1917 (Picture: Morvay Kinga)

Prince Rákóczi György II gave the order to have the whole castle and its walls pulled down in 1658 because he would have hated to cede it to the Crimean Tatar and Ottoman Turk forces who were pillaging Transylvania at that time. Here you can read more about some of the events happening in 1658:

The emptied settlement was populated only at the end of the 17th century, we know 200 Hungarian petty nobles living there in the first years of the 18th century. This time it was owned by the Esterházy family. Now you can see only the Csonkatorony (Stump Tower) that remained from the castle. The town’s Reformed church was built in its place. 

Photo: Galaxydave

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Here are a few more pictures of Nagyszalonta: